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ethiopia mission trip

An Ethiopia Mission Trip Story

What Can I Give?

Reflections on the Ethiopian Orphan Crises

By Stefani Carmichael

Be flexible,” Audrey told us repeatedly prior to our vision trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Little did we know just how much we would be stretching ourselves.

In January, the Ethiopian Parliament voted to end international adoption. On February 16, a week before we left, authorities declared a nationwide state of emergency in Ethiopia following the resignation of the current Prime minister. The day after our arrival, protests began in the country and at least 21 Nekemete residents were injured when police fired on them.

The government crises impacted us far less than closing international adoption. The first three days, the government shut off our power as retaliation, but we plodded along. Our guest house turned on a generator a few hours each day. But our schedule changed daily and hourly as orphanages we had planned to visit closed. International adoption had funded these orphanages, and as the funding dried up, the orphanages could not continue. Two of the orphanages we visited we were told would close very shortly. 

We learned to flex our schedule, flex our taste buds, flex through traffic that seemed to have no rules, but what I was unprepared for was how far my heart would have to flex during a week.

God knew we needed a gentle warm-up in one of the better orphanages. Toddlers lined up quietly on potties in the two toddler rooms, seemingly unconcerned with privacy as we entered. As I watched, my mind wandered to my own vibrant toddler and a tear trickled down my face. The man touring us saw and told us all how important it was that we not look sad for the children. I turned my face to the linens folded next to me until I could regain my composure.

The next day my sorrow turned to joy as “Joseph” reached for me on the orphanage porch and would not let me put him down. We blew bubbles and sang songs with hand motions while Pastor Alex played the guitar. He finally fell asleep in my arms and napped until the traditional Ethiopian coffee and popcorn ceremony.

In Addis Ababa, berbere (an Ethiopian spice), coffee, and incense mixed to try to drown out the overwhelming smell of pollution, but never quite succeeded. The following afternoon, we lamented ever complaining about the air of the city, as we walked into one of the most over-crowded, under-funded orphanages in Addis. If you have smelled a dirty diaper, then just imagine smelling hundreds all at once and you can get an idea of the jolt we received.

ethiopia mission tripBubbles were the magic that reached so many toddlers that day. I could not hold them all, but bubbles floated to more than I could ever hold and kissed them on their cheeks where I could not. We all blew and smiled and spread what joy we could. The toddlers could not leave their cribs, but I watched one’s eyes grow big in uncertainty as he spotted the floating orb, and he bolted over the rails into another crib to escape it.

In the infant rooms, we tickled and held and sang to babies. Our hearts were wrung by glassy, lifeless eyes and by those who finally responded. Seeing babies packed three, four, and five to a crib is painful. Watching hope enter the eyes of a baby as she giggles is beautiful. Singing “Jesus Loves Me” as you hold her close is precious. Listening to her scream because you can’t take her with you is excruciating.

At an orphanage for girls 8 and older, the girls flocked to us, using broken English to tour us proudly around buildings with holes in the wooden floors. We had been there for quite some time when we finally saw two adults passing through the room for the handicapped. I talk to each of the handicapped girls, sitting in their cribs, isolated.

Afterward, Brittany asks, “Did you see the girl behind the door”?”

I hadn’t.

“She was just lying there, and one of the girls I was with took her pulse as we passed by. She said she was still alive.”

Our final day in Ethiopia we walked from Hope House to Faith House. Mengistu held my hand and the children sang “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty,” as we walked on cobblestone streets toward the other home. Belay greeted us at Faith House and showed us items he was making for his latest project. His goal is to open a carpentry business where he can help support the ministry while also employing boys aged out of the government orphanage.

“And do you teach these boys?” I asked, motioning toward Mengistu.

“I give them 10 Burr an hour to help,” he answered. “And what do you do with the money?” He asked Mengistu.

“I give some to the church, some to the poor, some into savings,” Mengistu answered in Amharic, grinning as he added, “and some for me.”

Time does not permit telling the flip-flopping my heart endured that week. Beauty and brokenness merged together. Times to laugh and cry came side by side. One family made less than $500 a year, living in construction sites. One 5-year-old went to visit family and could not return to her mom due to unrest. A teenage boy had been living alone in a home smaller than most American storage sheds for 7 years since his parents died. And yet, a nail on the wall contained six medals. He was a star athlete and top in his class. 

How do I sum up my thoughts at the end of all this? I think back to one of the teenage girls who proudly toured me around the orphanage. Her possessions fit in half of a locker. Yet, outside she pulled a ring woven from a blade of grass off her finger and slipped it onto mine.

I couldn’t help but think of the example of the widows’ mite.

Sometimes I feel like the widow…what can I give?  

At times like these, I realize I am probably more like the rich person who gives nothing compared to what I have been given.

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